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Democracy and Education

Democracy and Education

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Democracy and Education

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  1. Democracy and Education Week 2: Dewey’s Democratic Conception of Education Each generation is inclined to educate its young so as to get along in the present world instead of with a view to the proper end of education: the promotion of the best possible realization of humanity as humanity. (Dewey, 7.5)

  2. John Dewey • For Dewey society should not be considered a failure simply because it does not fit with notions of an ideal society. • He is actively non-Platonic in terms of his challenging of classes and externally or hierarchically imposed aims. • For him, society is made up of many smaller societies with conflicting interests, which compete for accommodation. • Cities, for example, are ‘congeries of loosely associated societies’.

  3. Congeries of Loosely Associated Societies • ‘Within every larger social organization there are numerous minor groups: not only political subdivisions, but industrial, scientific, religious, associations. There are political parties with differing aims, social sets, cliques, gangs, corporations, partnerships, groups bound closely together by ties of blood, and so on in endless variety. In many modern states and in some ancient, there is great diversity of populations, of varying languages, religions, moral codes, and traditions. From this standpoint, many a minor political unit, one of our large cities, for example, is a congeries of loosely associated societies, rather than an inclusive and permeating community of action and thought.’ (Dewey, 7.1)

  4. Ideal Society? • ‘If it is said that such organizations are not societies because they do not meet the ideal requirements of the notion of society, the answer, in part, is that the conception of society is then made so "ideal" as to be of no use, having no reference to facts; and in part, that each of these organizations, no matter how opposed to the interests of other groups, has something of the praiseworthy qualities of "Society" which hold it together.’ (ibid.)

  5. Societies Which Actually Exist • Dewey’s pragmatic and realist political emphasis was on ‘societies which actually exist’. • His aspirations for democratic society attempted to take advantage of the differing interests of individuals and groups and use them to the progressive benefit of society as a whole. • ‘We cannot set up, out of our heads, something we regard as an ideal society. We must base our conception upon societies which actually exist, in order to have any assurance that our ideal is a practicable one.’ (ibid.)

  6. The Elimination of Distance as the Expansion of Horizons • For Dewey, breaking down boundaries between groups helped to expand the productive context that exists within society. • ‘Every expansive era in the history of mankind has coincided with the operation of factors which have tended to eliminate distance between peoples and classes previously hemmed off from one another. Even the alleged benefits of war, so far as more than alleged, spring from the fact that conflict of peoples at least enforces intercourse between them and thus accidentally enables them to learn from one another, and thereby to expand their horizons.’ (ibid.)

  7. Democracy and Education • The relationship between democracy and education is clarified succinctly by Dewey when he writes: ‘The devotion of democracy to education is a familiar fact. The superficial explanation is that a government resting upon popular suffrage cannot be successful unless those who elect and who obey their governors are educated. Since a democratic society repudiates the principle of external authority, it must find a substitute in voluntary disposition and interest; these can be created only by education.’ (Dewey, 7.2)

  8. Plato’s Undemocratic Education • In contrast to this he challenges (but also accepts the benefits of) Plato’s preferred society and education: ‘We cannot better Plato's conviction that an individual is happy and society well organized when each individual engages in those activities for which he has a natural equipment, nor his conviction that it is the primary office of education to discover this equipment to its possessor and train him for its effective use. But progress in knowledge has made us aware of the superficiality of Plato's lumping of individuals and their original powers into a few sharply marked-off classes; it has taught us that original capacities are indefinitely numerous and variable. It is but the other side of this fact to say that in the degree in which society has become democratic, social organization means utilization of the specific and variable qualities of individuals, not stratification by classes.’ (Dewey, 7.3)

  9. Economic and National borders to the Social Ends of Education Economic and national differences put limits on the ability for democracy and democratic education to reach its full potential. His emphasis on common ends is similar to Plato’s focus on the ‘good’ but for him must come from the ground up: ‘Is it possible for an educational system to be conducted by a national state and yet the full social ends of the educative process not be restricted, constrained, and corrupted? Internally, the question has to face the tendencies, due to present economic conditions, which split society into classes some of which are made merely tools for the higher culture of others. Externally, the question is concerned with the reconciliation of national loyalty, of patriotism, with superior devotion to the things which unite men in common ends, irrespective of national political boundaries.’ (Dewey, 7.5)

  10. Undesirable Society Dewey sets down his definitions for desirable and undesirable societies as follows: • ‘An undesirable society, in other words, is one which internally and externally sets up barriers to free intercourse and communication of experience. A society which makes provision for participation in its good of all its members on equal terms and which secures flexible readjustment of its institutions through interaction of the different forms of associated life is in so far democratic. Such a society must have a type of education which gives individuals a personal interest in social relationships and control, and the habits of mind which secure social changes without introducing disorder.’ (Dewey, 7.S)

  11. Aims as facilitative • The aims of education in terms of a desirable society would be to facilitate individual interest and positive social functions: • ‘Aims mean acceptance of responsibility for the observations, anticipations, and arrangements required in carrying on a function -- whether farming or educating. Any aim is of value so far as it assists observation, choice, and planning in carrying on activity from moment to moment and hour to hour; if it gets in the way of the individual's own common sense ( as it will surely do if imposed from without or accepted on authority ) it does harm.’ (Dewey, 8.3) • This is as opposed to externally imposed aims (see next slide..):

  12. Externally imposed aims ‘The vice of externally imposed ends has deep roots. Teachers receive them from superior authorities; these authorities accept them from what is current in the community. The teachers impose them upon children. As a first consequence, the intelligence of the teacher is not free; it is confined to receiving the aims laid down from above. Too rarely is the individual teacher so free from the dictation of authoritative supervisor, textbook on methods, prescribed course of study, etc., that he can let his mind come to close quarters with the pupil's mind and the subject matter. This distrust of the teacher's experience is then reflected in lack of confidence in the responses of pupils. The latter receive their aims through a double or treble external imposition, and are constantly confused by the conflict between the aims which are natural to their own experience at the time and those in which they are taught to acquiesce. Until the democratic criterion of the intrinsic significance of every growing experience is recognized, we shall be intellectually confused by the demand for adaptation to external aims.’ (Dewey, 8.3)

  13. A True Aim • True aims must be related directly to actual experience of those being educated in that moment. • For Dewey, focusing on the present in terms of aims is, perhaps paradoxically, better for the future. • ‘A true aim is thus opposed at every point to an aim which is imposed upon a process of action from without. The latter is fixed and rigid; it is not a stimulus to intelligence in the given situation, but is an externally dictated order to do such and such things. Instead of connecting directly with present activities, it is remote, divorced from the means by which it is to be reached. Instead of suggesting a freer and better balanced activity, it is a limit set to activity. In education, the currency of these externally imposed aims is responsible for the emphasis put upon the notion of preparation for a remote future and for rendering the work of both teacher and pupil mechanical and slavish.’ (Dewey, 8.S)

  14. Definition of Culture • Dewey defines culture and its relation to education as follows: • ‘…a social efficiency which is defined in terms of rendering external service to others is of necessity opposed to the aim of enriching the meaning of experience, while a culture which is taken to consist in an internal refinement of a mind is opposed to a socialized disposition. But social efficiency as an educational purpose should mean cultivation of power to join freely and fully in shared or common activities. This is impossible without culture, while it brings a reward in culture, because one cannot share in intercourse with others without learning -- without getting a broader point of view and perceiving things of which one would otherwise be ignorant. And there is perhaps no better definition of culture than that it is the capacity for constantly expanding the range and accuracy of one's perception of meanings.’ (Dewey, 9.S)

  15. References Chapters 7-9 from Dewey, J. (1916) Democracy and Education Whole text here: Ryan, A. (1995) John Dewey and the High Tide of American Liberalism London: Norton Westbrook, R.B. (1991) John Dewey and American Democracy London: Cornell University Press